A Doll's House

Who or what is to blame for the failure of the Helmer marriage?

A Doll's House

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Ibsen makes clear that the fault is the father's (Nora's father's)--but when he thus blames Helmer for the failure of the marriage, Ibsen is not condemning him for shallow selfishness, but for an unwillingness to face the truth. Kristina can see how Nora's failure to face the truth endangers the marriage, but she does not know what Helmer is hiding.

Nora realizes how selfish Helmer is after he reads Krogstad's letter promising not to reveal the loan or the forgery. When he sensed that his past could be covered over again, Torvald exclaimed: "I'm saved." Not "You're saved," or even "We're saved," but only "I'm saved." Nora saw that she had been living for eight years with a stranger. She knew that Helmer did not love her, that he was no longer willing enough to risk himself or his reputation for her. That freed her of all obligations to him. Nora not only had to leave to save herself as a person, but now she was morally free to go into the world on her own; this also gave both her and Torvald the opportunity "to be so changed that. . . our life could be a real marriage." Torvald Helmer was dumbfounded. He did not know what she was talking about.

How Torvald Helmer will face this is problematic. His best friend, Dr. Rank, who early in the play knew him better than Nora did, had said that Helmer was too sensitive to face anything ugly. This moral collapse was far uglier than the doctor's illness. The reader must wonder if Helmer has the courage to face the townspeople when they learn that Nora has left him, whether he will learn accept hardship and begin to live for others. Will he, like Nils Krogstad, live for the reputation of his children, come to terms with himself, and strike out with a determination to make himself anew. Will he learn that a real marriage is such a fundamental need that a man must be willing to make the same sacrifices that woman make? He is not now the man who can teach Nora to be a wife. Can he become that man?6